MSTRKRFT heralds the return of the big beat

For all of hipsterdom’s renewed interest in Daft Punk, the band with the biggest influence on current club sounds is one people don’t talk much about anymore: the Chemical Brothers.

All of today’s indie-dance trademarks—the stadium-sized riffs, the squelching midrange attack, and the compressed rhythm parts—are beamed in directly from London circa 1995, when the English producers were dropping bombs like “Leave Home” and “Life Is Sweet” into the British pop charts.

Few of today’s big-beat revivalists hew closer to the Chems’ model than Canada’s own MSTRKRFT, a production duo comprising Jesse F. Keeler and Alex Puodziukas (aka Al-P). Rockers will recognize Keeler from his time in Death From Above 1979, a much-loved dance-punk act whose bass-and-drums songs took on epic dimensions when remixed for the dance floor.

Conceived in 2005 as a production team for other people’s music, MSTRKRFT quickly piqued bloggers’ ears with its own songs and its remixes of Pitchfork-approved artists like Annie, Bloc Party, and the Kills. Having made their Vancouver debut to a resolutely underground Vancouver audience two years ago at Shine, Keeler and Al-P return to B.C. this weekend as one of the biggest dance acts on the Pemberton Festival bill.

Their celebrity status in clubland was cemented last year when they joined superstar John Digweed for a month-long tour of some of North America’s largest discotheques. Speaking to the Straight from the Toronto shore of Lake Ontario, Keeler says he had a blast playing to mainstream clubbers, but that we shouldn’t expect MSTRKRFT to start brandishing glow sticks.

“When it comes to music, our base motivation isn’t very different from John’s, but the way we go about things certainly is,” he says. “To be honest, we don’t feel much influence from him at all. Don’t get me wrong—I love people like Carl Cox, and I love watching John Digweed deejay, because he’s amazing. But I can spend all night at, say, a bluegrass bar in Memphis and really enjoy it without having that experience find its way into our music.”

Fronted by N.O.R.E., MSTRKRFT’s recent single “Bounce” plays like another squelching tribute to the 1990s, when dance producers like BT and Roni Size were soliciting guest turns from American rappers like Guru and Method Man. That’s the first hint of what MSTRKRFT’s next album—scheduled for an October release—might sound like, but what’s even more intriguing is Keeler’s discussion of the album to come after that. After spending the past two years inside a DJ booth, Keeler’s itching to break out.

“With our first record [2006’s The Looks] and this upcoming album, it’s not practical to perform them live,” he says. “But the next record we’ll make so that we can do it completely live—no computers. Once there’s a computer on-stage, it becomes suspect, because there’s no way of knowing what’s being done. When we start our first live shows, I don’t want to bring out all our old gear just to use them as props. I want it to be for real.”

MSTRKRFT plays Pemberton Festival on Saturday (July 26).